Drop charges in 38-year-old murder case
Friday, June 5, 2009
On Monday, San Francisco will see the opening of legal proceedings in
the case of the seven former members and associates of the Black
Panther Party charged in connection with the 1971 death of Sgt. John
Young and conspiracy to commit murder. This surely will be one of the
city's historic trials - if indeed it goes to trial.
At the heart of this 38-year-old case are confessions obtained under
torture. Much like detainees in Abu Ghraib and Bagram air base,
defendants in this case were blindfolded, covered with wool blankets
drenched in boiling water, subjected to suffocation with plastic
bags, beatings and electric shocks to the genitals.
In this case, the torture was carried out in 1973 in New Orleans. FBI
chief J. Edgar Hoover had deemed the Black Panther Party "the
greatest threat to internal security of the country," and there were
no holds barred when law enforcement retaliated against the Panthers
for their challenge to police brutality in the black community.
The torture of some of the defendants in New Orleans included the
participation of San Francisco police officers, who extracted forced
signatures from them on "confessions" written by the police. All of
the men who were tortured repudiated these documents when allowed to
see defense attorneys and a magistrate.
In subsequent years, courts in Louisiana and California rejected the
admissibility of this tortured testimony.
There is another eerie parallel with the war in Iraq. There, after
the United States could not capture al Qaeda members with provable
ties to the terrorist attacks of 9/11, many innocent Iraqis have
borne the brunt of the government's determination to make someone
(who at least looked like the culprits) pay dearly.
And here in San Francisco, the new attempt to prosecute this old case
seems to have been generated less by any new evidence than by the
atmosphere of fear fostered by the war on terror, led by a government
willing to condone torture in the name of security.
The world is waiting to see if the Obama administration will hold
accountable those high level officials who normalized terror. As a
mother and citizen who has felt the terrible cost of a war justified
by officials who claimed to have intelligence that later proved to be
distorted by torture, I cannot stand silent when the same evil is
practiced at home.
I join with the Nobel Peace laureates the Rev. Desmond Tutu and
Mairead Corrigan Maguire, the San Francisco Labor Council, the Center
for Constitutional Rights, and many others in their call to drop the
charges against these men. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors has
gone on record as opposing torture. I call on all officials to do so
as well, to reject prosecution based on the results of torture and to
defend the human rights of these men who have been subjected to such injustice.
Cindy Sheehan is the mother of Casey Sheehan, an American soldier
killed in Iraq, co-founder of Gold Star Families for Peace, and
author of "Peace Mom: A Mother's Journey Through Heartache to Activism."
7 face hearing in '71 killing of S.F. sergeant
John Koopman, Chronicle Staff Writer
Sunday, June 7, 2009
The ghosts of San Francisco's violent past return Monday morning, as
seven men - all in their late 50s and early 60s - go before a
preliminary hearing in connection with the shotgun slaying of a
police officer 38 years ago.
The defendants allegedly are all former members of the Black
Liberation Army, an offshoot of the Black Panther Party at the time.
The seven suspects - along with one fugitive, one who has since died
and one who is testifying against his former comrades - are accused
of having attacked Ingleside Police Station in 1971. During that
attack, someone shoved a shotgun into the voice grate of a
bulletproof glass shield and killed police Sgt. John V. Young. A
civilian aide was wounded.
The case, controversial from the start, remains so today. Police and
prosecutors have long thought they knew who committed the crime, but
getting the case to trial proved difficult. More than two years ago,
police say, they discovered new evidence in the form of a
fingerprint, and they convinced one of the men to testify against the others.
"We don't take the killing of cops lightly," said Gary Delagnes,
president of the San Francisco Police Officers Association.
Chuck Bourdon, attorney for one defendant, said the men cannot get a
fair trial because too much time has passed, resulting in lost or
missing evidence and the dimming of witnesses' memories.
In fact, the case has languished for more than two years since the
defendants were arrested, just to get to the preliminary hearing.
"But that's nothing compared to more than 35 years" since the crime
was committed, Bourdon said.
Delagnes said prosecuting the case is important because the suspects
were engaged at the time in a war against police everywhere. He said
they are suspected of having been involved in the deaths of 10 to 15
police officers nationwide. Two of the defendants, Anthony Bottom
(who now goes by the name Jalil Muntaqim) and Herman Bell, are
serving life sentences in New York for murdering two New York City
police officers just months before the Ingleside attack.
Stuart Hanlon, Bell's attorney, said the preliminary hearing will be
long and complicated, but the more important hearing will take place
afterward, when defense attorneys will argue that too much time has
passed for their clients to get a fair trial.
The roots of the case go back to the 1960s, when groups such as the
Black Panthers formed to promote civil rights, sometimes through
violence. The Panthers and the Black Liberation Army split and the
BLA, according to law enforcement sources, decided to promote armed
struggle against what they considered a racist and violent government.
The seeds of the Ingleside crime were sown Aug. 21, 1971, when Black
Panther Field Marshal George Jackson, who wrote the book "Soledad
Brother," died at San Quentin Prison, allegedly while trying to
escape with a gun in his hand. Many of his supporters refused to
believe the official version of events, and blamed the guards there
for killing him.
A week later, on Aug. 29, 1971, a group of men attacked Ingleside
Station, killing Sgt. Young. The attackers also allegedly attempted
to blow up the building, but their bomb didn't go off. In the ensuing
confusion, police say, one of the men dropped a lighter. A few days
later, The Chronicle, other media and police received notices from
the Black Liberation Army claiming responsibility for the attack.
In 1973, three suspects were tracked down to New Orleans, where they
were interrogated by the New Orleans police, the FBI, the SFPD and
others. The men alleged that they were severely tortured by New
Orleans police during the interrogation, and because of that they
made incriminating statements.
A judge later threw out the statements because of the allegations of
torture. The case lay relatively dormant until 1999.
San Francisco police have declined to talk about the case, but a new
analysis of the lighter found at Ingleside Station showed a
fingerprint match to one of the defendants, police say, and a former
BLA member agreed to testify against the defendants. Police have
declined to name their informant, but defense attorneys and others
have identified him as Ruben Scott.
In addition to Bottom and Bell, the defendants are: Ray Boudreaux and
Henry W. "Hank" Jones of Altadena (Los Angeles County), Richard Brown
of San Francisco, Harold Taylor of Panama City, Fla., and Francisco
Torres of New York City. Defendant John Bowman has died of cancer.
Another, Ronald Bridgeforth, apparently fled the country and has not
been seen since the early 1970s.
Attorney Hanlon said the bulk of the case against the defendants was
founded on confessions made during torture. Not only that, he said,
the alleged murder weapon has been lost, and prosecution notes from
the mid-1970s, when the San Francisco district attorney's office
declined to refile the case after the allegations of torture, have
disappeared as well. The case, he said, should be dropped accordingly.
"We're just trying to preserve these people's rights to a fair
trial," Hanlon said. "The media has painted a picture that these men
are guilty. So it's our job to talk about it and tell people that
there is not strong evidence of guilt."
E-mail John Koopman at email@example.com.
Trial of alleged former black power figures to open in San Francisco
Seven men are accused of carrying out a deadly attack on a police
station in the 1970s
8 June 2009
The violent history of the black power movement was set to go under
the spotlight today with the opening of the trial of seven men
alleged to have carried out a murderous attack on a San Francisco
police station in 1971.
They are alleged to have been members of the Black Liberation Army, a
revolutionary underground group that broke away from the Black
Panthers and which is alleged to have carried out scores of bombings
and robberies across the US between 1970 and 1976. The police claim
the group were responsible for the deaths of 13 police officers.
The Black Liberation Army argued that the non-violent approach of the
civil rights movement would fail to secure equal rights for
African-Americans and advocated instead armed struggle.
The seven, whose trial was scheduled to open in San Francisco today,
are accused of mounting an attack on the police station after the
death in prison of the Black Panther George Jackson, author of
Soledad Brother, a popular account at the time of his prison
experience and radicalisation.
One of the members of the group is alleged to have pushed a shotgun
into the voice grate of a bulletproof glass shield and shot dead
police sergeant John Young. The Black Liberation Army claimed
responsibility at the time.
The trial is controversial, mainly because a similar case in the
1970s was thrown out after a judge ruled the evidence was tainted,
obtained by the police through torture.
The police now say they have new evidence, including a match for a
fingerprint on a lighter left at the scene.
The suspects are known as the San Francisco Eight, one of whom has
been turned by the police and is now offering to give testimony
against the others.
Defence lawyers will argue that the men cannot receive a fair trial
because too much time has passed and it is unlikely that the memories
of witnesses will be sharp enough. Some evidence has gone missing,
including the murder weapon.
Two of the accused are at present serving prison sentences for the
murder of two New York police officers killed before Young.
The San Francisco attack was allegedly carried out by the seven in
the dock, plus the one who is providing testimony, one who has since
died and one who fled and has never been found.
Police slaying from '71 hits trial
By: Tamara Barak Aparton
Examiner Staff Writer
SAN FRANCISCO Nearly 40 years ago, a shotgun blast through an
opening in a bulletproof window killed 51-year-old San Francisco
police Sgt. John Young as he worked at the Ingleside Station.
On Monday, attorneys for seven former members of the militant Black
Liberation Army are scheduled to argue there is insufficient evidence
to support criminal charges against their clients in Young's slaying
and other crimes against police around the country.
In 2007, the state attorney general filed murder charges against
Richard Brown, of San Francisco; Ray Boudreaux and Henry Jones, of
Altadena; Herman Bell and Anthony Bottom, both already behind bars in
New York; Francisco Torres, of Queens; and Harold Taylor of Panama
City, Fla. in connection with Young's Aug. 29, 1971 death.
An eighth man was charged with conspiracy to commit murder against
police officers, but was later dropped from the case due to an
expired statute of limitations.
The men also face charges in a string of violence between 1968 and
1973, including the attempted bombing of the Mission Police Station;
the slayings of two New York City police officers; and three armed
Charges in Young's death were originally filed against the men in
1975, but were dismissed when a judge ruled that much of the evidence
in the case was obtained through torture.
The suspects are now in their 60s and 70s. Their supporters, who say
new evidence obtained from a discarded cigarette lighter is
questionable at best, plan to protest outside the start of their
preliminary hearing Monday. The hearing could last as long as three
to four months.
The Black Liberation Army rose after the demise of the Black Panther
Party and focused on an underground existence in which societal
change was often attempted through violent means.
Though never charged, the BLA has been suspected of planting a bomb
in The City's St. Brendan's Church on Oct. 22, 1970, while the
building was packed with mourners attending the funeral of a San
Francisco police officer killed while responding to a bank robbery.
Nobody was seriously injured in the blast.
Sgt. John Young remembered
Frank M. Jordan
Friday, June 5, 2009
Over the past two years, seven alleged former members of the Black
Liberation Army have periodically appeared in court followed by a
large contingent of supporters who hailed their exploits as "freedom
fighters" in support of a more violent approach to the civil rights
movement in 1971. The same entourage undoubtedly will appear Monday
at the preliminary hearing in San Francisco Superior Court to hear
charges that the seven murdered San Francisco police Sgt. John Young.
I have been painfully surprised to observe this exuberant, intense
outpouring of support on behalf of the seven individuals now ready to
stand trial. All seven are accused of participating in a violent
attack on the Ingleside Police Station 38 years ago on Aug. 29 that
resulted in the shotgun killing of Young. Incredibly, the suspects
were arrested 36 years later on Jan. 23, 2007, and charged.
Who is speaking up on behalf of Young? With all the recent news
regarding this case, I have not seen or heard any public comments
about the life and times of Young. As no one has spoken, I will.
Young was a close friend and mentor when I was a young police officer
patrolling the streets of San Francisco. His life was tragically cut
short by a senseless act of violence, yet his accomplishments and
legacy live on. I am convinced that much of the behavior we choose in
life is patterned after others who have influenced us. Young truly
believed that the capacity to care for those around him was primary
to giving his life its deepest meaning and significance.
His untiring work with the Hanna Boys Center in Sonoma County brought
busloads of youngsters to San Francisco to enjoy the carnival
atmosphere at Playland-at-the-Beach, also Giants games. He
enthusiastically recruited other police officers to volunteer their
time as chaperones at each event.
Young also was a frequent visitor at St. Anne's Home for the Elderly
on Lake Street in San Francisco, bringing gifts, reading material and
The list goes on and on.
I vividly remember the shock waves and emotional outpouring that
reverberated through the Police Department, as well as the community,
at Young's funeral in 1971. As a young police officer then-assigned
to Park Station, I had the privilege of being one of the pallbearers.
Let our lives reveal our values as Young's life did. He never wavered
in his capacity to love, and he gave his life protecting the people
of San Francisco.
Let his legacy continue on through the police officers assigned today
to the streets of San Francisco and those who will follow them, each
a living memorial, each striving to provide exemplary service to the
people of the city of San Francisco. Sgt. John Young should not be
forgotten. He paid the ultimate price.
Frank M. Jordan is the former chief of police and former mayor of San
Francisco. He is currently the special adviser to the president of
the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.